Having covered the basics of watermarks and why they’re important to use in my earlier post My Journey With Photographic Watermarks, I wanted to take you on a journey of how I’ve employed watermarks over the past 10 years. Not only do I plan on digging my old watermarks out of my archive I’ll tell you what I was thinking when I used them and why I decided to change them.
As previously discussed watermarks by definition are ugly, but a sad necessity. As I’ve dug up my old watermarked images I’ve shaken my head more than once in disgust. Disgust because 1) the intent of my photography has been to show beauty and dynamic moments not a watermark and 2) because as I go back in time I realize how horrible some of my watermarks were.
Attribution AND Branding
I have an extensive marketing background and as such learned early on the importance of “Brand”. Most of the time you never think of brands or branding and thats because over time with repeated exposure brand identity becomes subconscious, as an example a Coca Cola bottle. From the very beginning of my online image sharing efforts brand was a central consideration as much as attribution. Clearly watermarks are critical in providing credit for creative work where credit it is due, but it also provides an opportunity to give viewers something to recognize beyond photographic style… in essence a digital signature. This no doubt will rub fine art photographers the wrong way. For fine art photographers the brand is the work, the style and the vision. I don’t disagree with this, but as an artist no opportunity should go unturned in creating an identifiable brand both for prospective sales and commissioned work. Looking past a watermark as an aspect to communicate ones brand would be a wasted opportunity.
My 2000-2001 photography watermark (above) didn’t last very long as I quickly learned the importance of including a standard copyright statement “©<year> Jim M. Goldstein, All Rights Reserved”. I have to admit I don’t mind this watermark from a style perspective, but it wasn’t enough. The downside was that it wasn’t always clear with a busy background, should have been larger and as discussed missed the standard copyright statement.
Watermark as a Calling Card
Beyond legal statements and providing reason enough to use cool looking fonts, a watermark has the ability to provide a key marketing function… be a calling card. In 1997 Hotmail was sold to Microsoft for $400 million dollars. The reason was the large audience that had been developed. How did Hotmail cultivate rapid user growth? Through “viral marketing” which at the time was a brand new term. Every email sent from Hotmail included their tagline and a URL back to their service home page. These days we take such basic marketing for granted, in fact we’ve learned to filter it as noise. This isn’t always the case though particularly when you’ve relayed something to a viewer that is much more engaging such as photography. While Hotmail proved the concept we’ve later seen YouTube perfect it. At the time YouTube was sold to Google every video had 7 ways it could be sent to someone to be seen. I’m not out to delude you that photographic sales are in the same league as online email or video sharing, but the marketing concepts are applicable. Beyond traditional attribution as to who created the photo a watermark can also be used to point people to a destination to see more work they might enjoy and perhaps even purchase.
In 2001 I decided to experiment and botch the “calling card” or “viral marketing” concept. I released a more intrusive watermark for wallpaper I was making available for sale. Granted I was very wet behind the ears as were most photographers placing work online at the time, but this watermark was just hideous. Looking back I’m glad I faulted on the side of hideousness rather than going too light on my watermark. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that my wallpaper sales never took off. My late 2001 watermark clearly lacked an artistic touch and was far too distracting. What it did do right is provide the standard copyright statement along with my site name and URL. In 2001 my web site was brand new, I knew that people were hot-linking or lifting photographs if they liked them and I wanted to get people back to my web site.
Learning from my previous mistake, that fortunately not many people saw (until now), I released an alternate version for general web viewing (see below). While it was more artful and less intrusive at the time it still rubbed people the wrong way. I stuck with it for a couple of years despite the feedback I received.
Know Your Audience
While the safest assumption to make is that once your photography is online it will be distributed beyond your control and in ways you may never know, there are instances where you need to tailor your presentation (watermark included) to your audience. Not every online audience is going to be uneducated in the ways of copyrights and pirate your photographic work. When I found a small photography forum full of great people that I recognized and respected I scaled back my watermark to the standard copyright statement. I also used the scaled back watermark for an online portfolio site I was using knowing that most viewing my work there would understand the implications of pirating my work.
In some regard this watermark worked just fine for the audience, but it was a step backwards as it related to branding. This basic watermark (magnified so you can see it) was adequate, but was too faint.
The first time I saw a framed photo online was I was baffled. I felt that the photo should speak for itself. Why rely on a frame? It just seemed cheesy. Over time it grew on me and I could see how attribution, branding and artistic presentation could be blended with it. I have to give credit to fellow photographer Patrick Di Fruscia who I first saw with a framed photo online (note he just launched a blog) as it proved to be an influence… in a way I’d never have predicted. Still for many this approach doesn’t sit well, but it has proven to be popular with a growing number of viewers and photographers.
What I’ve grown to like about this approach is the ability to provide a photo title, my name and web site URL in conjunction with a standard copyright statement. The downside to this is that it is rather busy. To be blunt though any watermark style is going to be distracting if your photography isn’t strong and lacks impact. A strong and engaging photo will keep a viewers eye no matter what the watermark.
No Watermark is Perfect
2008 proved to be one of my best years photographically speaking, but it was also a frustrating year. With success came copyright infringers and a lot of aggravation. It is essential that you make your copyright statement visible, so that an infringer cannot say they didn’t see a photo was copyright protected. This is not just preference, but a matter of law in the event you go after someone in a court of law (at least in the U.S.) As noted earlier, my preference is no watermark at all. I want my photographs to be front and center, but would you believe I had someone infringe my work in the watermark format exemplified above in the frame and they claimed they were unaware the image was copyright protected? I was told my watermark was not obvious enough yet they removed my over image watermark and cropped away the frame. Below is the infringed version of the photo in question as well as how the original was displayed on Flickr (where the infringer found my work).
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After this instance of copyright infringement I started overlaying an even larger text watermark over my photos in this framed format (see below).
Reinvent the Wheel
After being frustrated by the amount of infringement of my photography in 2008 I decided to re-evaluate my watermarking approach. I wanted to learn from past experiences, simplify the effort it took to watermark my photography, utilize the latest tools available to me and develop a watermark design that was refined. In late 2008 I finalized a new watermark design that encapsulated a large copyright symbol, my name and my web site address. In essence blending efforts with attribution, establishing a calling card, clearly identifying legal protections and branding with in a limited footprint.
Everyone has their limit and one can only go so far to ruin their photography online under the guise of attribution, branding and limiting infringement. For some my evolution may be a spiral into madness or just bad taste. Everyones pain threshold in this area is different, but one always has to be true to themselves. A watermark should be practical, functional and aesthetically pleasing to the photographer. Watermarks are not one size fits all… by that I mean every photographer has a slightly different expectation to the purpose and outcome of placing their photography online. Ones watermark should be tailored to a specific expectation and purpose. A stock photographer may have a very different watermarking strategy compared to a strict fine art photographer. The best way to move forward with watermarks is to align an approach that meets your online marketing needs and to adapt. Things never stay the same for long, but bad user behavior certainly seems to persist in one form or fashion. With that being said in my next post I’ll explore “Marketing Through Infringed Photos with Watermarks“.
[tags]Photography, Copyright, Watermark, Watermarking[/tags]